Dori Hillestad Butler may have been sad to leave her Iowa home and friends but we in the Pacific Northwest have certainly been enriched by her change of address! In the few short years since her arrival, she’s helped to create an even stronger bond between local book creators (and mandolin players!). It is a pleasure to host her today as she shares about a bold step she took with her seventh book in the popular Buddy Files series, The Case of the P-O-U-N-D Pet (Point Vista Press), illustrated by Dana Sullivan, (see his Friend Friday post here).
I never thought I’d become an indie publisher. But never say never. The Case of the P-O-U-N-D Pet (Point Vista Press) is the 7th book in my Buddy Files series. The first six books were traditionally published, but I published this one on my own.
The idea for the story fell into my lap during a school visit. I walked into a classroom and saw an area that was roped off. A sign on the rope read: The P-O-U-N-D, just like I wrote in my Buddy Files books (dogs never say that word, they only spell it!). Behind the rope was a large pile of stuffed animals. The teacher told me that today was Pound Pet Day, which meant the kids brought in stuffed animals to read to. But the stuffed animals had to stay in the P-O-U-N-D until it was time for reading.
I immediately wondered what Buddy, the therapy dog, would think about Pound Pet Day? He’s used to kids reading to him, not to stuffed animals. Would he feel jealous? What if one of the pound pets went missing and everyone thought he had taken it? He’d have to solve the mystery to clear his good name.
It was a fun book to write, and I assumed it would be published. Unfortunately, continuing the series with the original publisher was suddenly not an option. My agent tried to move the series to another publisher but was unsuccessful.
I was devastated. The Buddy Files wasn’t “just a series” to me. It was the series in which I felt like I’d found my voice as a writer. I couldn’t imagine not writing these books anymore.
In the midst of my despair, I heard about a week-long workshop on the Oregon Coast where I could learn about indie publishing. I decided to go. I met people there who had a whole different outlook on writing and publishing than I did. They opened my mind to the possibility of becoming my own publisher.
It still took me a while to do it. Five years, to be exact. Even after attending this workshop, I had to get over the stigma. I also had to convince myself that I had the skills to do this.
But I realized I didn’t have to do it all on my own. I built a team that included an editor and proofreader, an illustrator and a designer. And I did it! I published a book that I can feel proud of.
Now I know that I can continue my Buddy Files series if I want to. But I no longer feel like I have to.
In 2017, Peachtree launched my King & Kayla series, which is the prequel to the Buddy Files. I still get to write in that same happy-go-lucky dog detective voice; I simply do it for less experienced readers. And do you know what? I think this character is better suited to the fully-illustrated, early reader format (1200-1300 words) than he was to the longer chapter book format (10,000-12,000 words). Who knew?
I always thought the secret to making it as a writer is some combination of practice, perseverance, and a little bit of luck. But I think there’s one more element I need to throw into that mix: an ability to stay open to possibilities. That may even be the key!
Dori Hillestad Butler is the author of more than 50 books for young readers, including the Haunted Library series (Penguin Random House), the Buddy Files series (Albert Whitman and Company), and the King & Kayla series (Peachtree). Her King & Kayla and the Case of the Missing Dog Treats received a 2018 Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor Award,her Buddy Files #1: Case of the Lost Boy received the 2011 Edgar Award for best juvenile mystery, and her books have appeared on numerous children’s choice and teen award lists. Dori has been an active library volunteer, therapy-dog partner and mentor to many young writers. She grew up in southern Minnesota, spent 19 years in Iowa, and now lives in the Seattle area. She loves to visit schools all around the country. You can learn more about her on her website.